Vendors and developers donate expertise to build accessible Web sites

* Nonprofit organizations benefit from generosity of IT community

My heart is bursting with the joy of seeing the generosity of our colleagues in the IT community.  I have two special events to tell you about.  Maybe I'll touch your heart; maybe I'll inspire you to get involved.  Either way, this is simply a feel-good story all around.

Oct. 16 was rally day for AIR-Houston, the Accessibility Internet Rally.  AIR is a program where professional Web developers team with nonprofit organizations to develop fully accessible Web sites for the organizations.  All team members are given technical training on tools and techniques for making a Web site accessible for people with disabilities.  Each team's members may meet a few times to plan and architect the Web site.  On rally day, they code it and pull it all together.  To add to the excitement, teams compete against each other to develop "the best" Web site in various categories.

This is the seventh year for the AIR program overall, but the inaugural year for Houston to host a program of its own.  AIR was developed and hosted by Knowbility, a nonprofit organization based in Austin.  The premise of the program is to teach Web developers about the need to build accessibility into their work.  An accessible Web site is sensitive to the needs of all types of viewers, including people with visual or hearing impairments, mobility limitations, colorblindness, photosensitivity, or age-related disabilities.

Nonprofit organizations often have the smallest of budgets for Web development, yet the biggest demand from the citizens they serve.  The AIR program marries this need with the volunteered skills and time of the professional Web developers.  The Houston program kicks it up a notch by including junior and senior high school students on the teams, so they can be mentored by the experts.  Later, Web developers as well as the students can use the new skills they develop through the AIR program to propagate accessible properties in every Web site they work on.

There were 200 volunteers at the rally. Ten teams worked hard to build new Web sites for nonprofit organizations including Texas Adaptive Aquatics, Career and Recovery Resources, Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, Paralyzed Veterans, and The Center.  The Web developers come from companies, agencies and organizations such as HP, Idea Integration, WebXites, Accessible Web Design, the Houston Area League of PC Users (HAL-PC), the University of Houston, the City of Houston and others.

You'll have to wait a week or so to see the end results, but I'll be sure to share the URLs and the list of winners when they're available.

A second event, which took place on Oct. 20, was Disability Mentoring Day (DMD).  This is a nationwide program developed by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) whereby companies offer one-on-one mentoring for students with disabilities. I'm pleased to see so many IT companies among the sponsoring firms, including AOL, HP, Honeywell, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.  It shows that our industry cares about more than just profits and market share.

Few companies have embraced this program as strongly as HP.  This year, HP facilities all around the world are supporting DMD.  I had the privilege of helping the Houston office recruit high school and college students.  About two-dozen students were paired with HP mentors, who introduced the kids to the business world.  Engineers, Web developers, marketing managers and others gave their time and talent to expose a young generation of students with disabilities to the opportunities in front of them. 

The two worlds of AIR-Houston and DMD are colliding in one 14-year old student from La Porte High School.  For AIR, he was assigned to the Rice University team to develop an accessible Web site for Endeavor.  At HP, he worked with an HP.com developer. Despite his visual impairment and his youth, this young man can run circles around many IT hobbyists.  With a bit of mentoring, he'll be a great Web professional himself someday. 

At the end of the day, it's all about helping each other.  It doesn't take much time and effort to change someone else's world for the better.  What will you to do use your skills to rock someone's world today?

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at mailto:Linda.Musthaler@currid.com

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American Association of People with Disabilities Disability Mentoring Day

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